What transformation really looks like

What we think transformation looks like
What transformation really looks like

This week, there were a few instances in which similar narratives* about transformation were recounted to me:

“It seems like I’m giving up… Maybe it’s due to the horrible week I’ve had. Some weeks I’m doing so well and some weeks I’m just, like, I don’t want to do anything.”

“I’m not very good at practising and being consistent… I get so frustrated at why I’m doing so well in some weeks and absolutely crap in others.”

In my responses, I thought I’d try something a bit different and shared the graphics above instead.

Within minutes, I received replies* that ranged from “😊🙏🏼” to “This is so on point… It makes a lot of sense”.

We’re so used to seeing the highlight reels of others that, much like the snapshots of transformation they share, we’ve come to expect change to be easy, and to take place at a snap of the fingers.

On the contrary, the transformation journey takes place over time and is fraught with challenges.

It’s messy, disappointments abound and it often feels like we’re taking two steps forward, only to move one step back.

But chaos is part of change.

It’s the stumbles that tell us we’re moving forward, and allow us to pause and look back to see the distance between then and now, to know how far we’ve come.

So keep walking, folks.

Today, we may feel like we’re in a negative region on the mood and change graph and that’s completely OK.

We have tomorrow to try again, and the next day, and the day after, and so on, until we become the change we want to see.

*Edited for confidentiality.

Like licking honey from a razor’s edge

honey lips 3 by photoplace

An excerpt from The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche (1992):


To reflect deeply on impermanence, just as Krisha Gotami did, is to be led to understand in the core of your heart the truth that is expressed so strongly in this verse of a poem by a contemporary master, Nyoshul Khenpo:

The nature of everything is illusory and ephemeral,
Those with dualistic perception regard suffering as happiness,
Like they who lick the honey from a razor’s edge.
How pitiful they who cling strongly to concrete reality:
Turn your attention within, my heart friends.

Nyoshul Khenpo (My emphasis)

Yet how hard it can be to turn our attention within! How easily we allow our old habits and set patterns to dominate us! Even though, as Nyoshul Khenpo’s poem tells us, they bring us suffering, we accept them with almost fatalistic resignation, for we are so used to giving in to them. We may idealize freedom, but when it comes to our habits, we are completely enslaved.

Still, reflection can slowly bring us wisdom. We can come to see we are falling again and again into fixed repetitive patterns, and begin to long to get out of them. We may, of course, fall back into them, again and again, but slowly we can emerge from them and change. The following poem speaks to us all. It’s called “Autobiography in Five Chapters”:

  1. I walk down the street.
    There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
    I fall in.
    I am lost … I am hopeless.
    It isn’t my fault.

    It takes forever to find a way out.
  2. I walk down the same street.
    There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
    I pretend I don’t see it.
    I fall in again.
    I can’t believe I’m in the same place.
    But it isn’t my fault.
    It still takes a long time to get out.

  3. I walk down the same street.
    There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
    I see it is there.
    I still fall in … it’s a habit
    My eyes are open
    I know where I am
    It is my fault.
    I get out immediately.

  4. I walk down the same street.
    There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
    I walk around it.

  5. I walk down another street.

The purpose of reflecting…is to make a real change in the depths of your heart, and to come to learn how to avoid the “hole in the sidewalk”, and how to “walk down another street”. Often this will require a period of retreat and deep contemplation, because only that can truly open our eyes to what we are doing with our lives.

…Why not reflect…when you are really inspired, relaxed, and comfortable, lying in bed, or on holiday, or listening to music that particularly delights you? Why not reflect…when you are happy, in good health, confident, and full of well-being? Don’t you notice that there are particular moments when you are naturally moved to introspection? Work with them gently, for these are the moments when you can go through a powerful experience, and your whole worldview can change quickly. These are the moments when former beliefs crumble on their own, and you can find yourself being transformed.

Contemplation…will bring you a deepening sense of what we call “renunciation”, in Tibetan ngé jung. Ngé means “actually” or “definitely,” and jung means to “come out,” “emerge,” or “be born.” The fruit of frequent and deep reflection…will be that you will find yourself “emerging”, often with a sense of disgust, from your habitual patterns. You will find yourself increasingly ready to let go of them, and in the end you will be able to free yourself from them as smoothly, the masters say, “as drawing a hair from a slab of butter”.

This renunciation that you will come to has both sadness and joy in it: sadness because you realize the futility of your old ways, and joy because of the greater vision that begins to unfold when you are able to let go of them. This is no ordinary joy. It is a joy that gives birth to a new and profound strength, a confidence, an abiding inspiration that comes from the realization that you are not condemned to your habits, that you can indeed emerge from them, that you can change, and grow more and more free.”

Write of passage

Swineherd and sounder (PHOTO: Teh Wen Hui)
Swineherd and sounder (PHOTO: Teh Wen Hui)

It’s been a while since I’ve made the journey to the memory of young adulthood.

I think about what it was like to be 21. I remember Pooters; parties; Perth; Peer Pressure; the Panopticon. I’m reminded of the feeling of invincibility and immortality; I distinctly recall speaking and writing about it, to someone, somewhere.

I think about whether I’d like to be 21 again. Reliving the growing pains while coming of age holds little appeal. But were they really matters of great importance – or mere minutiae? If I had known then what I now know, perhaps I would’ve treated those mountains for the molehills they were.

Therein lies the paradox of growing up. When it comes to the yearning for a golden age, departure is both the impetus and a necessary condition. It is only through crossing the Rubicon of youth that we can land on the shores of reminiscence and epiphany.

In order for us to arrive, then, we must first leave.